AROUND the name of the little town of Hirschholm, in Denmark, there is much romance.
In the early years of the eighteenth century, Queen Sophia Magdalena—the consort of that pious monarch, King Christian VI, who went to chapel with his court three times a day and had all the theaters of Copenhagen shut up—one summer evening, after a long day’s hunting, killed a stag on the bank of a tranquil lake in the midst of a forest. She was so much pleased with the spot that she resolved to have a palace built there, and she named it after the stag: Hirschholm. It was, like most teutonic architecture of the period, a pompous and finicky affair when it was finished, built up as it was in the middle of the lake, with long straight embarkments across the water, upon which the royal coaches could drive up in all their splendor, reflected, head down, in the clear surface, as had been the stag, surrounded by the Queen’s hounds. Around the lake the little town, with its employees’ houses, taverns and little modest shops grew up, red-tiled, around the huge royal stables and manèges. It was very quiet most of the year, but they had a great time when the magnificent court arrived for the hunting season.
Fifty years later, when Sophia Magdalena’s grandson, King Christian VII, ruled over Denmark, the tragedy of his young English Queen, Carolina Mathilda, took place, or was prepared, at Hirschholm. This pathetic pink-and-white and full-bosomed young Princess sailed over the North Sea at the age of fifteen to marry a debauched and heartless little king, not much older than herself, but already far on his way toward that royal lunacy which swallowed him up some years later, a sort of Caligula in miniature, whose portrait gives you a strange impression of an entirely lonely and disillusioned mind. After a few unhappy years that were probably both dull and bewildering to the English maiden, she, by the time when the King took to playing at horses with his Negro page, met her fate. She fell deeply, desperately, in love with the doctor who had been summoned from Germany to heal, by means of his novel cold-water cures, the sickly little Crown Prince. This doctor was a very brilliant man who was much in advance of his time. Her great passion for him first raised her lover to the highest places in the land, where he shone surprisingly as a star of the first magnitude, a reckless revolutionary tyrant, and then ruined them both. They had their short good time at Hirschholm, where Carolina Mathilda impressed her Danish subjects by riding to hounds in men’s clothes—attire which one cannot imagine, from her portraits, to have been very becoming to her. Then the rancor of the indignant old Dowager Queen encircled the lovers and brought them down. The doctor had his head cut off for pilfering the regalia of the crown of Denmark, and the young Queen was sent in exile to a little town in Hanover, and died there. Virtue triumphed in its most dismal form, and the palace that had housed such blasphemy was itself left and finally pulled down, partly because the royal family did not like to see it, partly because it was said to be sinking, of itself, into the lake. The whole splendor disappeared, and a church, in the classical style of the dawning nineteenth century, was erected where the palace had stood, like a cross upon its grave. Many years later statues and carved and gilt furniture, with rose garlands and cupids, were to be found in the houses of the wealthy peasants around Hirschholm.
After the storm had passed over its head the little town gave for years the impression of someone benumbed by shock and lying very low. It had not been able to believe that such things could happen, in any case not in its very middle. It had perhaps still in its heart remnants of a loyal sympathy for the gay young Queen who had smiled at it. But to have one’s head cut off is a serious business, and it had only to look toward the place where the palace had stood to have the wages of sin brought home to it. Hard times came upon the country: wars, the loss of the fleet, bankruptcy of the state, the spirit of virtue and severe economy. The frivolous days of the eighteenth century were gone forever.
Then, about fifty or sixty years after the tragedy of the young Queen and her premier, the town had a pleasant little renaissance.
It could not go on forever being repentant of sins in which it had in reality no part, and it could, no more than the rest of the country, live forever upon the conviction of the excellency of prudence. When one is tied down heavily enough to an existence of care, it becomes pleasant to think of careless times and people. Also, though people do not like their mothers’ virtue to be questioned, the frivolities of grandmothers may be charming things to smile at. By the time when men began to grow whiskers and ladies to wear sidecurls, the sins of people in powder began to look romantic, like passions and crimes on the stage. The time had come when poets would drive out in wagonettes from Copenhagen and board at Hirschholm to sing of the unhappy Queen Carolina Mathilda, and see her shadow, flighty on her flighty steed, galloping past them in the forest. The avenues of lime trees, planted upon the embankments in the unselfish spirit of the eighteenth century—which must have walked between sticks six feet high in order to give coming generations shade and foliage—had grown up and grown old, and within their green bowers old ladies and men who had seen, as children, the Queen ride clattering across the stone bridges with her hounds, or the King, like an elegant powdered and corseted little doll with a blank face, pass in his coach, were expanding upon the excitement of court life to pretty maidens, matrons, and youths of the town, who held their own hearts carefully in check.
At this time there lived in Hirschholm two men who distinguished themselves, in different ways, from the average burgher.
The first of these was, rightly, the prominent figure of the town, a citizen of great influence, and a man not only of property and prestige, but of the world and of great charm. His name was Mathiesen, and he had been made a Kammerraad, a chamber-councilor. Later a bust of him was erected, in remembrance of him, at the entrance to one of those long lime avenues in which he loved to walk.
He was at the time—that is, in the early ’thirties—between fifty-five and sixty years old, and lived quietly and contentedly in Hirschholm. But he had been younger, and had lived in other places. He had even traveled much and had been in both Germany and France during those fatal and restless times which preceded the idyll: in the days of the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon. There he had seen, and probably himself played a part in, many things which the little town could not have dreamed of, and the people who had known him as a young man said of him that he had come back with other eyes—formerly they had been blue, but now they were light gray or green. If he had lost illusions out there, he was not likely now to think the loss very great, and he had surely won instead a talent for making life pleasant and himself comfortable. There is probably no better place for a sensible epicurean than a small provincial town. The councilor, who had been a widower for fifteen years, had an excellent housekeeper and a cellar which might have done honor to a Cardinal. It was said of him in Hirschholm that when alone of an evening he did needlework in cross-stitch; but then, there was no reason why, in his position, he should give up any pleasant pastime in life for the sake of conventionality.
Amongst the treasures which the Councilor had collected in the great world and brought home to Hirschholm, there was none that he valued as highly as his recollections of Weimar, where he had lived for two years, and his remembrance of having once lived in the atmosphere of the great Geheimerat Goethe. It is a great thing to have been face to face with the highest, and a law of life that one thing amongst all that we meet must impress itself deeper upon our souls than any other; and the image of that serene town and of the great poet were stamped forever on his being. Here was the ideal man—the superman, he might have thought, if the word had been invented—who combined in himself all the qualities which humanity envies and toward which it strives: the poet, philosopher, statesman, the friend and adviser of princes and the conqueror of women. The Councilor had many times met Goethe on his morning walks, and had heard him talk with friends who accompanied him. On one occasion he had even been introduced to the great man himself, had met the glance of those Olympian and yet human eyes, and had exchanged a few words with the Giant. The poet and Herr Eckermann had been discussing a question of Nordic archeology, and Herr Eckermann had called upon the young foreigner to give evidence in the argument. Goethe then questioned him upon the matter, and courteously asked him if he could possibly procure certain information. Mathiesen had made a deep bow and had answered:
Ich bin Eurer Excellenz ehrerbietigster Diener.
The Councilor was not an ordinary man, and had none of the ordinary man’s ambitions. He had a high opinion of his position in Hirschholm—as indeed he had reason to have—and in his daily existence he had no wants which were not well satisfied. If he did, for the rest of his days, cherish, together with a picture of the Geheimerat, an ambition to feel himself, in his smaller surroundings, a superman in miniature, it was known only to himself, and in real life played the part of ideals in general—that of an unseen directive force, which makes for balance. But he was a man of broad outlook who took a long and wide view of things. He maintained an idea of paradise, for his generation had been brought up on the thought of life everlasting, and the idea of immortality came naturally to him. His paradise was to be a Weimar—an elysium of dignity, grace, and brilliancy. Still, his feelings about another world were not of vital importance to him; he might have given them up without too much pain. But he had a very firm faith in history, and in the immortality which it may grant you. He had seen it made around him and had felt its breath upon his cheek, and he knew the great Emperor and the heroes of the Revolution to be more alive than the functionaries and tradesmen of Hirschholm who lifted their hats to him in the roughly paved streets and with whom he exchanged little pleasant remarks every day. It was upon the arena, and in this high society of history, that he desired to live on.
It was either the deep impression which poetry had made upon him when it manifested itself with so much grandeur, or an inborn tendency in his own heart, which one might perhaps not have expected—but who can tell, seeing how little we know about hearts?—which made this art take such a great place in his scheme of things. Outside of poetry there was to him no real ideal in life, or, indeed, any satisfactory immortality. It was natural, then, that he should have tried to write poetry himself. On his return from Weimar he had produced a tragedy which took its theme from old Danish history, and later he wrote a few poems inspired by the romance of Hirschholm. But he was a judge of art, and realized, as quickly as anybody else could have done, that he was no poet. So he had been aware for some time that the poetry of his life would have to come from somewhere else, and had recognized his own part in connection with it to be that of a Mæcenas, a part for which he felt himself well fitted and which he thought would be becoming to him in that immortality toward which he was striving.
It so happened that what he was looking for had come to meet him, in the person of a young man who also lived at Hirschholm and who was at this time a district clerk and—although this was only known to the Councilor and himself—a great poet.
His name was Anders Kube, and he was twenty-four years old. He was considered not at all good-looking by the people who knew him, but at the same time an artist painting a sacred picture and looking for a model for a young angel’s face might have found it in him. He had a broad face and dark blue eyes set wide apart. For his work he used spectacles, and when he took them off and looked directly at the world his eyes had a clear and deep gaze, such as Adam’s eyes may have had when he first walked around the garden and looked at the beasts. Of a strange, slow and angular, unexpected gracefulness in all his movements, with thick dark red hair and very big hands, he was a nearly perfect specimen of a type of Danish peasant which was then to be found amongst parish clerks and fiddlers, but which has, now that peasants are sitting in parliament, disappeared.
Of the two worlds in which he lived, the one that gave him his daily bread was very limited, made up of the whitewashed office room of the district court, his own rooms—very neatly kept by his landlady, who was fond of him—at the top of a stair and behind a large lime tree, and the woods and fields around Hirschholm, where he roamed in his free hours. He was also received into the houses of a few kind and respectable burghers of Hirschholm, to play cards and listen to political arguments, and he had friends amongst the wagoners of the great road who outspanned and supped at the inn, as well as among members of the strange tribe of charcoal burners who carted their charcoal from the great woods near Elsinore to Copenhagen. The Councilor’s house held a position of its own in his existence. Three years before, when he first came to the town, he had carried letters from a friend of the Councilor’s, old Apothecary Lerche, who had recommended him as a talented and industrious young man, and on the strength of them he had received a standing invitation for supper with the Councilor on Saturday nights. These evenings were pleasant to him, and gave him many impressions. He had never before had the chance of listening to so much wordly wisdom, such rich stock of experience, as that with which he was here regaled. Probably the Councilor did indeed speak more openly to him than to anybody else, but the youth had no idea that he himself played such a part in the life of his protector.
Neither had he any notion of a theory which the Councilor had developed on his behalf, which came to this: that the young man had to be kept in a sort of cage or coop in order to bring out his best as a poet. Perhaps this theory was based upon experiences of the Councilor’s own life; he may have felt that he himself had, in the course of events of the past, lost powers and ideals essential to a poet. Perhaps it was entirely a matter of instinct. In any case it was a deeply rooted conviction of his heart that he had to guard his protégé. As long as he could keep him quietly in Hirschholm, treading the pavement from his lodgings to his office, or the long avenues, the great forces within him would have to come out in poetry. But if the world and its wild and incalculable influences were to get hold of him, he might be lost to literature and to his Mæcenas; he might be dragged into uproars and rebellions against that law and order of which the Councilor was himself a staunch support, and come to finish his days upon a barricade. Seeing that nobody else would have imagined young Kube upon a barricade, the theory showed, if true, a deep insight into human nature on the part of the Councilor—except that perhaps the people found on barricades may generally be those least expected there. At any rate its effect was that the old man kept an untiring eye on the youth, like a sort of unselfish lover, like a mighty and dignified Kislar Aga toward a budding beauty of the seraglio for whom he has planned great things.
On his part the Councilor could have no knowledge that he himself was, in the eyes of his protégé, encircled by a poetic halo. It had been created, at the beginning of the youth’s stay at Hirschholm, by a tale of his landlady’s, the truth of which was doubtful, and which ran as follows:
The Councilor was, as already said, a widower, but before he came to this state he had gone through much. The late Madame Mathiesen had been an heiress in a modest way. She had come from Christiansfeld, which is the seat, in Denmark, of the Hernhuten, a severe puritan sect, like the Jansenites in France, and she was a woman with a highly developed conscience. But one summer evening, two years before her death, she had suddenly lost her mind in a fit of terror of the devil, and had wanted to kill her husband or herself with a pair of scissors. They sent for the old doctor, who tried all his arts on her without doing her any good, so, as there was no hospital for that kind of patient near by, they boarded her with the old palace gardener of Fredensborg—another royal palace at some distance from Hirschholm—and his wife, who were kind people and owed their appointment to the influence of the Councilor. There she lived, without regaining her reason, but in a happier state of mind, for she believed that she was dead and in heaven, waiting for her husband. Sometimes, though, she expressed a fear of his never getting there, for she said that he was a great sinner; but she trusted to the grace of God.
The narrator of the tale, who had at the time been a maid in Madame Mathiesen’s house, was the only person, outside of the narrow family circle, who knew how this crisis had been brought on. On that July evening, after a thunderstorm, and while a double rainbow stood burning over the landscape, the Councilor and his wife, with a young girl who was the daughter of a functionary at Court, the Councilor’s friend, and who had been sent to Hirschholm to recover from a disappointment in love, were going out for a walk. Madame Mathiesen was in her room putting on her bonnet, when, through the open window, she saw the girl pick a yellow pansy and fasten it upon the Councilor’s coat. There may be, for the Hernhuten, some magic in a yellow pansy or in the air under a double rainbow. At any rate the sight had upon Madame Mathiesen an effect which nobody else could have foreseen.
Two years later, at about the same time of the year, the Councilor had news from Fredensborg that his wife’s health had improved, she no longer thought that she was in heaven, and they believed that it would do her good to see him. So he had his gig brought out on a fine afternoon, got into the neat little carriage, and took the reins himself. Then he seemed to think better of it, got out again, and went into the garden, where he picked a yellow pansy and fastened it on his coat lapel. The meeting between the husband and the wife did not turn out as their friends had hoped, though she had been in her window all day waiting for him. She no sooner saw him than she was seized by her old confusion. She became so wild that they had to call for assistance. In fact, she fell back into madness altogether, from which she never recovered, for she died a year later.
Young Kube had not a judging mind, and would never, left to himself, approach any phenomena in life from a moral standpoint. He neither admired nor blamed the Councilor for his rôle in the drama. But he had a mind which strangely enlarged everything he met. Under the handling of his thoughts, things became gigantic, like those huge shadows of themselves upon the mist, which travelers in mountains meet and are terrified of, gigantic and somehow grotesque, like objects playing about, a little outside of human reason. So the Councilor began to swell and evaporate and to move in mystic serpentine windings, like the spirit which came out of Solomon’s bottle and showed itself to the poor fisherman of Bagdad; and every Saturday night the young poet sat down to supper with Loki himself.
On most other nights he would be alone, and as he was a poorly paid clerk, by instinct very careful about his money, and encouraged therein by his landlady, he would sup on porridge and afterward let his big cat drink milk out of his plate. Then he would sit very still, looking at the fire, or, on summer nights, out of the window to where a slight milky mist upon the surface indicated the contour of the lake, and let all the world quietly open its heart to him, unfold and reveal itself in such wild forms as appeared natural to him. The young son of the soil, tied to a register, had the soul of the old Eddas, which created the world around them in terms of gods and demons, and filled it with heights and abysses unknown in their country; and also the playful mentality of those old mystics who populated it with centaurs, fauns, and water deities who did not always behave properly. Those Danish peasants, who were by nature their descendants, had, under a deep gravity like that of a child, more playfulness and shamelessness of mind than a clown. Generally they have not been much understood or appreciated except as they could turn this side of their being out, and in a craving for understanding they have often had to take to drink. Anders Kube still, because he thought it the right thing, would write little poems of a spider upon a branch of roses, but later on, when he came more into his own, his creations took quite different dimensions.
Some evenings he would go out not to come back till daylight, and his landlady could not get out of him where he had been.
A few miles out of Hirschholm there is a little property with a pleasant white manor house, surrounded by trees and pretty grounds, called La Liberté. For years nobody had been living there. The owner had been an old apothecary, the same man who had given Anders Kube his letters of introduction, who had his business in Copenhagen and had been making money all his life. At the age of seventy, after having borrowed some romantic narratives of travel at his club, he made up his mind to see the world, and started on a voyage to Italy. A halo of adventurousness had surrounded his enterprise from the beginning. It grew brighter when it was reported how he had experienced an earthquake at Naples, and had there made the acquaintance of a compatriot, a mysterious figure who was sometimes described as a merchant captain and sometimes as a theatrical director, and who died in the apothecary’s arms, leaving a large family in distress. From Naples the old man had informed his friends that he had taken charge of the eldest daughter of this family, and was thinking of adopting her; but from Genoa, a fortnight later, he wrote that he had married her. “Now why did he do that?” asked his female acquaintances at home. He never did tell them. He died at Hamburg on the return journey, leaving his fortune to his relations, and La Liberté and a small pension to his young widow. Toward the end of the winter of 1836 she came and settled there.
The Councilor drove out to assist her and to see the adventuress of Naples who had ensnared—and, he suspected, killed off—his old friend. He found her demure, very ready to do everything that he told her. She was a short, slight young woman who looked like a doll; not like the dolls of the present day, which are imitations of the faces and forms of human babies, but like the dolls of old days which strove, parallel with humanity, toward an abstract ideal of female beauty. Her big eyes were clear as glass, and her long eyelashes and delicate eyebrows were as black as if they had been painted on her face. The most remarkable thing about her was the rare lightness of all her movements, which were like those of a bird. She had what the Councilor knew, in the technical language of the ballet, as ballon, a lightness that is not only the negation of weight, but which actually seems to carry upwards and make for flight, and which is rarely found in thin dancers—as if the matter itself had here become lighter than air, so that the more there is of it the better it works. Her mourning frocks and bonnets were somewhat more elegant than those commonly seen in Hirschholm; or perhaps it was that, having been bought in Hamburg, they appeared a little outlandish in the village. But she was either careful of her money or simple of taste. She altered nothing in the old house, and did not even move about any of the musty old furniture that had for so long led a forlorn existence in the painted rooms. In the garden-room there was a large and costly musical box which had been brought all the way from Russia. She seemed to like to walk about and to sit in the garden, but she let it remain overgrown, as it had been for years. Apparently she was bent on behaving with great correctness, for she drove about to call on the ladies of the neighborhood, who gave her good advice and recipes for making sausages and gingerbread, but she spoke little herself, and was perhaps shy because of a slight accent in speaking Danish. There was another characteristic which the Councilor noted in her: she was to the utmost shy of, or averse to, touch. She never kissed or caressed any of the other ladies, such as was the custom at Hirschholm, and evidently disliked being petted by them. There was something of a Psyche in the doll. The ladies of Hirschholm thought her harmless. She would be no rival either at making gingerbread or within the brilliant little school of scandal of the town. They wondered whether she was not a bit feebleminded. The Councilor agreed with them, and disagreed. There was something there, he thought.
On Easter day the Councilor and Anders went to church at Hirschholm. The sun was shining and the lake around the church was a bright blue, but still the day was cold with a sharp east wind, and there were showers from time to time. The daffodils, the crowns-imperial, and the Diclytra—which the Danes call “heart-of-a-lieutenant,” because, when you open the blossom, you find inside a champagne bottle and a dancer—which were just out in the little gardens, were harshly treated and bowed down by the wind and rain. The peasant women, who came to take holy communion in their gold-embroidered caps, had to struggle with their heavy skirts and long silk ribbons at the church entrance.
Just as the Councilor and his protégé were about to go in, the young lady of La Liberté arrived in a landaulet drawn by two heavy bay horses, which amply allowed themselves everything in front of the church door. She had got out of her widow’s weeds for the first time, it being now a year since her old husband had died, and was in a pale gray cloak and a blue bonnet. She felt as happy as a stock-dove within a green tree, and radiated a joy of life that was like a waltz played upon a violin with a sordine.
As the Councilor was exchanging ideas with the parson at the moment, it was young Kube who went to help her out of her carriage. In respect to the widow of his old patron he held his hat in his hand while they talked together for a moment. The Councilor was watching the scene from the porch and found himself strangely attracted by the sight. He did not take his eyes off them. Both the young people were exceedingly shy. Together with the slow and heavy grace of the young man’s countenance and her extraordinary lightness of movement, this double shyness seemed to give the brief encounter a particular expressiveness, a pregnant quality, as if there were a secret in it, and something would come out of it. The Councilor did not know himself why it so struck and moved him. It was, he thought, like the opening bars of a piece of music, or the first chapter of a romance called “Anders and Fransine.”
Geheimerat Goethe, he reflected, might—would indeed—have made something of it. He went into the church in a thoughtful mood.
All through the service the Councilor’s mind was playing about with his recent impression. It had come to him at a seasonable moment, for he had lately been uneasy about his poet. This young slave of his had been singularly absent-minded, and even absent bodily from one or two of their Saturday suppers. There was in his whole manner an unconscious restlessness, and underneath it the sign of a melancholy about which the Councilor was anxious, for he knew well that he could find no remedy for it. From a talk with the landlady he had got the idea that the young clerk might be drinking too much. Many great poets had been drunkards, he knew, but it did not quite fit into the picture with his own figure as a Mæcenas. Under the influence of drink, which he knew to have played a part in the history of the boy’s family, he might get out of hand, might run away to play the fiddle at the peasants’ weddings. The Councilor had opposed a raise in the young clerk’s salary at the district office, knowing that that would do him no good, but he should have liked a surer way of anchoring him. Now it occurred to him that marriage might be what was needed. The little widow with her small income, in the white house of La Liberté, might have been provided by providence as the ideal wife for his genius. She might prove to be, even, a Christiane Vulpius, the only woman, he had been informed, who had lain in the arms of the Geheimerat for whole nights without asking him questions about the meaning of life. These vague pictures pleased the Councilor.
From the men’s section, to the right of the aisle, his eye turned once or twice toward the women’s benches. The young woman kept very still. She was absorbed in the parson’s words, but all the time her face had the expression of deep secret joy. Toward the end of the service, as she was kneeling, deeply moved, she held a small handkerchief to her face. The old man wondered whether she was really crying or laughing into it.
After the service the older and the young man walked together to the Councilor’s house. As they passed the bridge a lashing, ice-cold shower was swept across the landscape. They had to put up their umbrellas, and they stopped on the little arched stone bridge to watch the hail beating down on the water, and the two swans of the lake rushing angrily under the arch through the gray waves. They kept standing there longer than they knew, both deep in thought.
Anders had had his mind filled, by the Easter sermon, with a row of shadows, which slowly took shape, like clouds banking up.
Mary Magdalena, he thought, came hurriedly on the dawn of Friday to the house of Caiaphas. She had seen in a vision how, upon the afternoon of the morrow, the veil of the temple was to be rent. She had seen the graves opening, and the saints coming forth. She had also beheld the angel of the Lord rolling back the stone of the grave and sitting upon it; and she hurled at the high priests reproaches for the monstrosity they were about to commit in crucifying God. Her words convinced the old men that Christ was in reality the only-begotten son of God, and the redeemer of all the world, and that what they were about to do would be the only true crime in all the history of mankind.
Thereupon they held a council within the dark room of the palace, in which a lamp shone upon their multicolored caftans and bearded, passionately pensive faces. Some of the priests were struck with terror and demanded that the prisoner be released at once; others went into ecstasy and prophesied in shrill voices. But Caiaphas and a few of the very old men discussed the matter with thoroughness, and agreed that they must carry through their prospect. If the world had really this one hope of salvation, they would have to fall in with the plan of God, however dreadful the deed.
Mary, in despair, talked to them of the sins and the misery of the earth, about which she knew so much, and of the holiness of Christ. The more they listened the more they shook their heads.
Caiaphas called forth Satan to talk the matter over with him. As his first impersonation, red-haired Judas came into the room and offered to return his thirty pieces of silver. When the council refused, he laughingly depicted to them the long future misery of the chosen people, from now forever hunted down and spat upon by the world, with the pieces of silver forever in their hands. He even described to the high priests the Ghetto of Amsterdam, which the Councilor had himself, upon a Saturday evening, painted to his protégé. The head of the old priest fell down upon his heavy textbook.
The Councilor’s own face was somewhere in the council of the high priests, although not yet quite distinctly placed. Mary Magdalena was kneeling, hiding her face.
The head of the young clerk swam a little. He had sat up late last night, playing cards with wayfaring people at the inn.
The rain had stopped. They put down their umbrellas and walked on.
The Councilor also, in spite of his matrimonial plans, had got stuff for thought from the sermon. He reflected how strange it is that St. Peter, who was the only person who knew of it, and who must have been in a position to suppress it, should ever have allowed the story of the cock to get about.
During the next three weeks the weather was very mild, but it rained. The soil was filled with growth, and the air with a fragrance that was only waiting for a clear day and sun to expand. Flowering plum trees floated like clouds of chalk around the farmhouses. Later the ground of the woods, underneath the beech trunks, was covered with windflowers, pink as shells, with digitate leaves and sweet and bitter scent. The nightingales arrived and turned all the world into a violin, still in sweetly dripping rain and mist.
Upon a Thursday toward the end of May the Councilor supped and played cards at Elsinore with a friend who was an officer in the service of the Sound duties. These parties were annual festivities where old friends met. They always drew out late, and it is thirteen miles from Elsinore to Hirschholm; but the Councilor did not mind, for the nights are light in Denmark at this season. He drove in his neat gig, lolling in his big gray riding cloak, while Kresten, his old coachman, drove the horse, and taking in a little sleepily the beauty of the May night and the smell from the fields and budding groves through which they were driving. A little way out of Hirschholm something in the harness broke. They had to stop, and Kresten concluded that they would have to borrow a piece of rope at the nearest farm to repair the damage. On looking around the Councilor found that they were just outside of La Liberté. Fearing that Kresten might make too much noise and disturb the sleep of the lady of the house, he decided to go himself. He knew the caretaker of the place; in fact, had himself got him the job, and could knock at his window without waking up anybody else. A little chilled, he got out of his carriage and walked up the drive. It was just before dawn.
The dim air was filled with the sweet and acid scent of fresh wet leafage. Upon the graveled drive there were still little pools of water; but the night was clear. He walked slowly, for here amongst the trees and bushes it was dark. An avenue of populus balsamifera led off the drive toward the farmyard, contributing the nectarous acrid breath of their shaggy flowers to the harmony of the atmosphere.
Suddenly, as he was walking on, he heard the sound of music. He stopped, hardly believing his ears—yes, there was no doubt: it was music. A dancing tune was being played, and it came from the house. He walked a little, then stopped again, wondering. Who was playing and dancing here before sunrise? He left the drive and walked across the wet grass of the lawn toward the front side of the house. As he came up toward the terrace the façade of the white house shone a dead white, and he saw a clear light between the lists of the closed shutters. The young widow might be having a ball in her garden-room tonight.
The wet lilac bushes on the terrace were full of unfolded flowers. The dark spiky clusters held a surprise in them; they would be so much lighter when they opened. A row of tulips kept their white and pink cups prudently closed to the night air. It was very still. The Councilor remembered two lines of an old poem:
The gentle zephyrs cease to rock
Newly inslumbered Nature’s cradle.
It was that hour just before sunrise when the world seems absolutely colorless, when it gives indeed a sense of negation of color. The rich hues of night have withdrawn, oozed away like the waves from a shore, and all the colors of daytime lie dormant in the landscape like in the paints used for pottery, which are all alike gray clay until they come out in the furnace. And in this still world there is a tremendous promise.
The old man, gray in his gray cloak, would have been nearly invisible even to somebody looking for him. In fact he felt extremely lonely, as if he knew that he could not be seen. He dared not put his hand to the shutter for fear of making a noise. With his hands on his back he leaned forward and peeped in.
He had hardly ever been more surprised. The long garden-room with its three French windows opening on to the terrace was painted a sky blue, much faded with time. There was but little furniture in the room, and what was there had been pushed back against the walls. But from the ceiling in the middle of the room hung a fine old chandelier, and it was all ablaze, every candle in it being lighted. The big Russian musical box was open, placed upon the old dumb spinet, and was pouring forth in high clear notes the tune of a mazurka.
The young mistress of the house stood on the tips of her toes in the middle of the room. She had on the very short diaphanous frock of a ballet dancer, and her little heelless shoes were fastened with black ribbons laced around her delicate ankles and legs. She held her arms over her head, gracefully rounded, and stood quite still, watching the music, her face like the placid, happy face of a doll.
As her bar of music fell in, she suddenly came to life. She lifted her right leg slowly, slowly, the toe pointing straight at the Councilor, higher and higher, as if she were really rising from the ground and about to fly. Then she brought it down again, slowly, slowly, on the tip of the toe, with a little gentle pat, no more than a fingertap upon the table.
The spectator outside held his breath. As before, on watching the ballet at Vienna, he had the feeling that this was too much; it could not be done. And then it was done, lightly, as in jest. One begins to doubt the fall of man, and not to worry about it, when a young dancer can thus rise from it again.
Standing upon the tip of her right toe now, she lifted her left leg, slowly, high up, opened her arms in a swift audacious movement, whirled all around herself, and began to dance. The dance was more than a real mazurka, very fiery and light, lasting perhaps two minutes: a humming-top, a flower, a flame dancing, a play upon the law of gravitation, a piece of celestial drollery. It was also a bit of acting: love, sweet innocence, tears, a sursum cordœ expressed in music and movement. In the middle of it there was a little pause to frighten the audience, but it went on all the same, only even more admirably, as if transposed into a higher key. Just as the music box gave signs of running down, she looked straight at the Councilor and sank down upon the floor in a graceful heap, like a flower flung stem upward, exactly as if her legs had been cut off with a pair of scissors.
The Councilor knew enough about the art of the ballet to value this as a very high-class performance. He knew enough about the pretty things in life altogether to value this early morning apparition altogether as a vision worthy of the Czar Alexander himself, if it came to that.
At her direct clear glance he took alarm and drew back a little. When he looked in again she had got up, but remained as if irresolute, and did not turn on the box again. There was a long mirror in the room. Pressing the palm of her hand gently upon the glass she bent forward and kissed her own silvery image within it. Then she took up a long extinguisher, and one by one she put out the candles of the chandelier. She opened the door and was gone.
In spite of his reluctance to be seen there by anybody, the Councilor stood still on the terrace for a minute or two. He was as astonished as if he had happened to surprise, upon this early May morning, Echo, practicing all on her own in the depths of the woods.
As he turned from the house he was struck by the greatness of the view from La Liberté. He had not noticed it before. From this terrace he looked out over all the surrounding country, verdant and undulating, even over the top of the forest. In the far distance the Sound shone like a strip of silver, and above the Sound the sun arose.
He walked back to his carriage in deep thought. Stupidly, a bit of a nursery rhyme, with a lovely little tune to it, came into his head:
Oh, it is not the fault of the hen,
That the cock be dead.
It is the fault of the nightingale,
Within the green garden.
He had forgotten all about the rope. On being informed by Kresten that he had managed to do the repair without it, he did not find a word to say to him.
During the rest of the drive he was very wide awake. It seemed to him that he had much to do, that he must rearrange all the chess men upon the board. The occupation carried in its train many ideas pleasantly refreshing to a man who in his daily life deals much with books and law, and who had been playing omber with three old bachelors only this last night.
The apothecary’s widow was no Christiane Vulpius, that was clear. She was not a person to anchor anybody. She might on the contrary have it in her to lift the young man, whom he had decided for her, off the ground, and together those two might fly, nobody could tell where to, all away from his supremacy. That she had thus deceived him he did not mind. He liked her for it; he was so rarely surprised in life. But it was a lucky thing that he had found her out, for he would not lose his poet. Indeed, he thought, he should like to keep them both. He took off his hat for a moment, and the wind of the young morning played around his temples. He was not an old man; he was young, compared with what she was used to. He was a rich man, a man who valued and deserved the rarest things in life. Could he make her dance for him of an evening? That would make a different married life from what he had before experienced. The poet would remain his protégé, and the friend of the house.
His thoughts went a little further while the sun rose up higher. An unhappy love is an inspiring feeling. It has created the greatest works of history. A hopeless passion for his benefactor’s wife might make a young poet immortal; it was a dramatic thing to have in the house. The two young people would remain loyal to him, however much they might suffer, and though love and youth are such strong things. And if they did not remain so?
The Councilor helped himself to a pinch of snuff, in the relish of which his delicate nose seemed to twist a little. His drive was nearly finished now. In the still limpid morning air the little town looked like a town at the bottom of the sea. The tiled roofs blossomed forth like a growth of bold or pale coral; the blue smoke arose like thin seaweeds rising to the surface. The bakers were taking their fresh bread from the ovens. The morning air made the Councilor feel a little sleepy, but very well. He came to think of that old saying which the peasants call the bachelors’ prayer:
“I pray thee, good Lord, that I may not be married. But if I am to be married, that I may not be a cuckold. But if I am to be a cuckold, that I may not know. But if I am to know, that I may not mind.”
These are the thoughts which only such a man can allow himself who has within the structure of his mind a perfectly swept room to which he is absolutely sure that no one but himself has the key.
The next evening, that being Saturday, Anders came to the Councilor’s house for supper. Afterward he read to his host a poem about a young peasant who watches three wild swans at night transform themselves into three maidens, and bathe in the lake. He steals the wings of one of them, which she has laid off while bathing, and makes her his wife. She bears him children. But one day she recovers her wings from where he has hidden them, and puts them on. She circles above the house in ever larger rings, and at last disappears in the air.
How is it that he writes this, that he should write this? the Councilor thought. It is curious. He has not seen her dance.
Now the beech forests of the province unfolded themselves. The gray rain fell for a few days around all the world as the veil around a bride, and there came a morning when all the woods were green.
This happens in Denmark every year in May, but impresses you every year, and it impressed these people of a hundred years ago as something entirely surprising and inexplicable. Through all the long months of winter you have been, even within the deep of the woods, exposed to the winds and the bleak light of heaven. Then, all of a sudden, the month of May builds a dome over your head, and creates for you a refuge, a mysterious sanctuary for all human hearts. The young light foliage, soft as silk, springs out here and there like little tufts of down, little new wings which the forest is hanging out and trying on. But the next day, or the day after, you walk in a bower. All perpendicular lines may give the impression of either a fall or a rise. The beech trees’ pewter-gray columns not only raise themselves, and reach forth from the ground toward infinity, the ether, the sun as the earth swings around it, but they lift and carry the lofty, the tremendous, roof of the airy hall. The light within, less bright than before, seems more powerful, filled with meaning, pregnant with secrets which are light in themselves, although unknowable to mortals. Here and there an old rugged oak, slow in putting out its leaves, opens a peephole in the ceiling. The fragrance and freshness encircle you as in an embrace. The branches, swaying down from above, seem to caress you or bless you, and as you walk onward you go under an incessant benediction.
Then all the country goes to the woods! to the woods! to make the most of a glory which does not last, for soon the leaves will darken and harden, and a shadow sink within. Driving and walking, the towns emigrate to the forest, sing and play amongst the tall trees, and bring bread and butter and make coffee upon the sward.
The Councilor also walked in the woods, and Domine, non sum dignus, he thought. Young Anders also confused the registers in the office, and left his bed untouched at night, and from La Liberté Fransine went out, her new straw bonnet upon her arm.
When the landscape was at its prettiest, the Councilor received a visit from his friend, Count Augustus von Schimmelmann. In spite of a difference in age of fifteen years, the two were real friends, united by many sympathies and common tastes. When the young Count was fifteen years old, the old Councilor had for a year filled the place of a friend of his, who had died, as tutor to the boy, and later they had met abroad, in Italy, and could talk together of books and religions, and of far people and places. For some years they had not met, but this was due to no estrangement between them, but to a development through which the Count had been passing, during which he had been engaged in making for himself a sort of modus vivendi, in which undertaking his old friend could have been of no use to him.
Count Augustus was by nature of a heavy and melancholy disposition. He wanted to be very happy but he had no talent for happiness. He had suffered during his youth. Somewhere, somewhere in the world, he had thought, there must be a great, a wonderful, happiness, the fons et origo of the power which manifests itself in the delights of music, of flowers, and friendship. He had collected flowers, studied music, and had many friends. He had tried a life of pleasure and had been made happy many times. But the road leading from it all into the heart of things he had not found. As time went on a dreadful thing had happened to him: one thing had become to him as good as another. Now, later in life, he had accepted the happiness of life in a different way, not as he really believed it to be, but, as in a reflection within a mirror, such as others saw it.
This inner development had begun when he had unexpectedly come into a very large fortune. Left to himself, he would have thought very little of it, for he did not know what he was to do with the money. But upon this occasion he was impressed by the attitude of the world around him: the happening occupied it much; the world thought it a great and splendid thing for him. Count Augustus was by nature very envious himself, and had housed this particular agony many times, mostly toward people in books, so that he was in a position to value the weight of the feeling. Next to painting a picture of which you yourself approve, the most pleasant thing is perhaps to paint a picture about which the whole world agrees to approve. Thus with the happiness of Count Augustus. Slowly he took to living, so to say, upon the envy of the outside world, and to accept his happiness according to the quotation of the day. He never let himself be deceived into believing that the world was right; he worked upon a system of bookkeeping by double entry. Under the entry of the world he had much to be proud or thankful for; he had hardly anything but assets in this account. He had an old name, one of the greatest estates and finest houses in Denmark, a beautiful wife, four pretty and industrious boys, the eldest twelve years old, a great fortune, a high prestige. He was an unusually handsome man, and became even more so with age, which went well with his type, and at this time of life he was a majestic figure. In the Consultation Chamber he had been called the Alcibiades of the North. He looked stronger than he was, like a man who enjoys his food and wine and sleeps well at night. He did not enjoy his food or wine much, and thought that he slept very badly, but to be envied by his neighbors for these goods of life became to him quite an acceptable substitute for the real goods.
Even the jealousy of his wife was, from this point of view, useful to him. The Countess had no reason to be jealous of her husband. Indeed it was doubtful whether, amongst all the women he had met, he did not like his wife best. But fifteen years of married life and four big sons had not cured her of her watchfulness and distrust, of the tears and long scenes, sometimes ending in her fainting away, which as a young man Count Augustus had thought a heavy cross. Now her jealousy took its place in his scheme of things, suggesting or proving to him the possibility, not of the ladies of the surrounding country seats and of the court falling in love with him—for that they unquestionably did—but of him himself falling in love with them, or with one of them. He came to depend upon her attitude, and had she reformed and done away with her jealousy, he would have missed it. Like to the Emperor in his new clothes, he was walking on, dignified, his life a continual procession, entirely successful in every respect except perhaps to himself. He did not think highly of his system, but it did not work badly, and during the last five years he had been happier than before.
While he had thus, like a coral polyp, been building up his moral world the Councilor could have done him no good whatever. For he had not got it in him to be envious of anybody, and he might have shaken the whole building. But now that it was firmly fastened, and he himself safely encysted within it, with no soft parts exposed, even to the extent of taking the whole matter a bit in jest, he met his old friend again with great pleasure. The Councilor, for his part, would always have been pleased to meet him. So would probably Diogenes always have been pleased to meet Alexander. Alexander was pleased with the moment when he declared that had he not been Alexander he would have been Diogenes. But who knows whether the great conqueror, who was very likely to a certain extent dependent upon the opinion of the world, would at the time have liked to hear the philosopher of the tub declare that had he not been Diogenes he would have liked to be Alexander. Later on in his career he might have allowed himself the luxury of a second meeting, and a real discussion upon the nature of things, with the Cynic. So did Count Augustus.
The two friends might still have passed as Alexander and Diogenes of 1836 as they walked in the woods, along roads strewn with the silky fallen teguments of the young leaves. In their dark clothes they were like two sedate birds, rooks or magpies, out to enjoy the May afternoon with their gayer colleagues.
They sat down upon a rustic seat in the forest and talked.
“As we live,” said Count Augustus, “we become aware of the humiliating fact that as we are dependent upon our subordinates—and without my barber I should be, within a week, socially, politically, and domestically a wreck—so are we, in the spiritual world, dependent upon people stupider than ourselves. I have, as you may know, some time since given up any artistic ambitions and have been occupying myself, within the sphere of the arts, with connoisseurship.” (He was indeed a shrewd critic of all objects of art.) “Here I have learned that it is not possible to paint any definite object, say, a rose, so that I, or any other intelligent critic, shall not be able to decide, within twenty years, at what period it was painted, or, more or less, at what place on the earth. The artist has meant to create either a picture of a rose in the abstract, or the portrait of a particular rose; it is never in the least his intention to give us a Chinese, Persian, or Dutch, or, according to the period, a rococo or a pure Empire rose. If I told him that this was what he had done, he would not understand me. He might be angry with me. He would say: ‘I have painted a rose.’ Still he cannot help it. I am thus so far superior to the artist that I can mete him with a measure of which he himself knows nothing. At the same time I could not paint, and hardly see or conceive, a rose myself. I might imitate any of their creations. I might say: ‘I will paint a rose in the Chinese or Dutch or in the rococo manner.’ But I should never have the courage to paint a rose as it looks. For how does a rose look?”
He sat for a while in thought, his walking stick upon his knees.
“Thus,” he said, “with the general human idea of virtue, justice, or, if you will, of God. If anybody were to ask me what was the truth about these things, I should answer: ‘My friend, your question is without meaning. The Hebrews conceived their God like this; the Aztecs of America, about whom I have just read a book, like that; the Jansenites again, like that. If you want any details of the various views I shall be pleased to give them, having devoted a certain amount of my time to this study. But let me advise you not to repeat your question in intelligent company.’ But at the same time I should be, for this superior view of mine, in debt to the naïve people who have believed in the possibility of obtaining a direct and absolutely truthful idea of God, and who were mistaken. For had they made it their object only to create a special Hebrew, Aztec or Christian idea of God, where would the presuppositions of the observer have been found? He would be in the position of the Israelites, who were to make bricks without straw. Indeed, my friend, while the fools could have done without us, we are dependent upon the fools for our better knowledge.
“When,” he went on after a little pause, “you and I, on our morning walk, pass a pawnbroker’s shop, and, pointing at a painted board in the window, on which is written ‘Clothes mangled here,’ you say to me: ‘Look, clothes are mangled here—I shall go and bring my washing,’ I smile at you, and inform you that you will find neither mangle nor mangier here, that the painted board is for sale.
“Most religions are like that board, and we smile at them.
“But I should have no opportunity of smiling, or of feeling or showing my superiority, and, in fact, the painted board would not be there at all, if, at some time or other, some people had not believed firmly in the possibility, in the wisdom, of mangling clothes, had not even been firmly convinced of the existence of their own mangle, with which clothes were indeed mangled.”
The Councilor listened to him. Now that they were out here together in the green wood, he thought that he would like to talk of his marriage plans, of which he had not yet informed anyone, not even Madame Fransine.
“My friend,” he said, “in all this foolishness of which you are speaking, I myself fit in harmoniously. Alter schützt vor Thorheit nicht. Under this venerable beaver hat of mine, I, while listening to you, have been harboring little thoughts which came out and fluttered like those two yellow butterflies”—he pointed at them with his stick—“little creeds, if you will forgive me, in absolute virtue, in beauty, even, perhaps, in God. I am seriously contemplating entry into the bonds of Hymen, and had you come to Hirschholm three months later, I might have had a Madame Mathiesen to do the honors to you.”
Count Augustus was much surprised, but he had so much faith in the wisdom of his friend that before the eyes of his mind the image of a mature and pleasant beauty, witty and thrifty, with an agreeable dowry, was instantly formed. Smiling, he hastened to congratulate the Councilor.
“Yes, but I do not know yet if she will have me,” said the old man, “which is the worst of it. For she is not more than a third of my age, and, to the best of my belief, a romantic little devil. She can neither make a pancake nor darn a sock, and she will not read the philosophy of Hegel. If I get her I shall have to buy the French fashion papers, carry my wife’s shawl at the balls of Hirschholm, study the language of flowers, and take to narrating ghost stories in the winter evenings.”
Count Augustus at these words received quite a little shock, so much was he reminded of old days. It was indeed as if he saw young Augustus Schimmelmann playing chess with his tutor at the open window of the library of Lindenburg. For this had always been a particular little trick of the Councilor’s whenever you brought out anything for his inspection. When you were most confident in your aces and kings he would put down a tiny little trump to knock them on the head, and that at a moment when you had not been aware that there were any trumps in. He had been the same as a little boy. When the other children had, in the autumn, been playing under the trees, pretending that the chestnuts were horses, he would come out with a little cage of white mice, really alive and thus much more like horses; or, as they were comparing their various treasures of knives, wooden soldiers and fishing hooks, he would pull out of his pocket a bit of gunpowder, which might blow up the whole lot in a very fine flash. He did not run down his friends’ acquisitions; there was nothing negative in his argument. But he had a little familiar devil which at the right moment put out its head and conjured the weight out of your things, so that you would feel a little flat about them. Those who have no taste for devils disliked this quality in the man. The opposite type, the chess player for one, was attracted by it. Here Count Augustus had been promenading before him, serenely, his superiority to life, his secure and unassailable relation to it, when pat! the Councilor took out of his pocket a little bright bit of risk and made it sparkle between his fingers like a jewel. The younger man had been uttering words of wisdom, and the old man produced a little flute and played three notes on it, just to remind him that there was such a thing as music, and also such a thing as folly, and alas for the heart of his old pupil.
The Councilor’s eyes followed the dance of the butterflies as they disappeared between the trees. “But light,” he said, “terrible as an army with banners.”
Count Augustus took off his hat and put it on his knees. The calm sweet air of the May evening ran like caressing fingers through his locks. All this was so much like old days, this little gentle shock of envy, as if the wings of the yellow butterflies had touched his heart. Young Augustus was again walking, and meditating upon heroism and the fun of life, in the cool and sweet-smelling air, under a light and silky young foliage. He let his silver-headed walking stick describe circles on the ground. What was his reputation for enjoying his wine and sleeping well at night—what was even the genuine enjoyment of these things? he asked himself now as he remembered words that he had heard long ago: “Who never ate his bread with tears, and never through the sorrowful night sat weeping on his bed, he knows ye not, ye heavenly powers.” Those heavenly powers—he had not thought of them for so long. His heart swelled a little at the remembrance of the way in which hearts do swell.
A figure came toward them down one of the forest paths, drew nearer, and was recognized by the Councilor as that of his protégé. The Councilor introduced him to his influential friend, and after a few remarks asked him to recite a poem for them.
Anders found it difficult to think of anything. His heart, in this particular spring, was moving in circles as large as those of the planets around the sun. Still he wanted to oblige this majestic, cold elderly gentleman. For he was not deceived by the Emperor’s new clothes, but saw him at once as the center of a procession, shivering, in his shirt. In the end he found a little ballad to recite, a little gay drop of overflow from all that happiness and pain which had filled him lately. It was about a young man who goes to sleep in the forest and is taken into fairyland. The fairies love him and look after him with great concern, puzzling their little brains to make him happy. The delights of forest life were in-spiredly painted, a long line running out at the end of each stanza giving it something of the babbling of a spring in the woods. But the fairies never sleep and have no knowledge of sleep. Whenever their young friend, fatigued by exquisite pleasure, dozes off, they lament “He dies, he dies!” and strain all their energy to keep him awake. So in the end, to their deep regret, the boy dies from lack of sleep.
Count Augustus praised the beauty of the poem and thought the beauty of the little fairy queen charmingly put into words. This boy, he thought, had in him a very strong streak of primitive sensuality which would have to be watched if the tastefulness of his production were not to suffer.
“Beware,” he said smilingly to the Councilor, “of the delights of fairyland. To poor mortals the value of pleasure, surely, lies in its rarity. Did not the sages of old tell us: He is a fool who knows not the half to be more than the whole? Where pleasure goes on forever, we run the risk of becoming blasé, or, according to our young friend, of dying.”
An idea occurred to the Councilor. This green wood, he thought, might do well as the setting for a bit of drama. “The Count,” he said, smiling, to the boy, “smiles at a little secret into which I have taken him. I will make you my confidant as well, Anders; only you must not smile at your old friend. I hope to procure for you, before long, a young patroness to recite to, who may, in the beauty of your fairy queens, dryads and undines, see her own beauty reflected as in a mirror.” As in a dim and silvery mirror, just before sunrise, he thought.
The young man, who was still standing up before the two dark figures on the sea, remained thus for a few moments in silence, as if in deep thought. Then he lifted his hat a little to the Councilor. “I wish you happiness, I am sure,” he said, gravely, looking at him, “and thank you for telling me. When is this going to be?”
“Ah, I do not know. In the time of the roses, Anders,” said the Councilor, taken somewhat aback by the youth’s directness. Anders, after a moment, bade good-by to the Count and to his patron and went away. Count Schimmelmann, who was an observer of men, followed him with his eyes. What! he thought. Did the old conjurer of Hirschholm have at his disposal not only his old familiar spirit and evidently a dryad to make love to, but also a young slave of that tribe of Asra who die when they love?
He felt a little cold, as if left out, not only of life in the abstract, but of some fullness of this particular May evening. He rose from the rustic seat and began to walk back. As, in the conversation with his host, he looked at his face, he noted there a deep, a gently inspired and resolute, look. “Das,” thought the Count, who came of a military race, smiling, “das ist nur die Freude eines Helden den schönen Tod eines Helden zu sehen.” Later on, however, he thought of these moments.
Now Count Augustus had one real talent and happiness, which other people might well have envied him, but of which he never spoke. He took hashish, and he took a little only, without ever overdoing the pleasure. Somewhere in the world he may have had brothers in hashish who would have given him half of their lives could he have sold them this capacity.
Walking at the Councilor’s side, he thought: What shall I dream tonight? Opium, he reflected, is a brutal person who takes you by the collar. Hashish is an insinuating oriental servant who throws a veil over the world for you, and by experimenting you can arrive at the power of choosing the figures within the web of the veil. He had already been a rajah hunting tigers from the backs of elephants, and watching bayaderes dancing; he had been the director of the great opera of Paris; and he had been Shamyl, pushing onward with his rebellious freemen, through the towering, snow-clad mountain passes of the Caucasus. But tonight what would he choose to dream? Could he recall the dewy May nights within the festoons of boughs at Ingolstadt? If he choose to, could he?—If he could, would he?
After supper at the Councilor’s house he ordered his magnificent landaulet and his much-envied English pair of horses, and drove away.
As Councilor Mathiesen was preparing to go to La Liberté, a-wooing, the next day, news was brought which proved to be a nut somewhat hard for him to crack. It was served him by his housekeeper, along with his new hat which he had asked her to take out of the box.
This woman, whose name was Abelone, had been in his house for more than fifteen years, but was still a young woman, tall, red-haired, and of an extraordinary physical strength. She had lived all her life at Hirschholm, and there was no particle of the life of the little town that she did not know. It was strange that there should be any mystery about herself, but there were people who told that she had been, as a girl of fifteen, suspected of concealment of birth and infanticide, and had had a narrow escape. The Councilor held her in respect. He had not met her match as an economist, not only in the keeping of his house, but in existence as a whole. To her, waste was probably the one deadly sin and abomination. Everything which came within the circle of her consciousness had to be made use of in one way or another, and nothing, as far as he could see, was ever thrown away by her. If she had had nothing but a rat to make a ragoût of, she would have made a good ragoût of it. In his own intercourse with her he always felt that every word and mood of his was somehow taken stock of, and kept, to be made use of sooner or later.
On this pleasant May day she proceeded to report to him the behavior, on the previous night, of his young clerk, whom she had until then taken into possession as an article of inventory of the household, and treated kindly.
This young man had been part of a company at the inn. As the beer had come to an end, he had promised his convives that he would give them something better, and being, as the Councilor knew, in possession of the keys to the church, where he had been going through the parochial registers, he had fetched from the sacristy four bottles of communion wine, with which he had regaled the party. He had not been in the least drunk, but quiet in his manner, as usual. He had, Abelone added, proposed the Councilor’s health in this wine.
While she was narrating, the Councilor was looking at himself in the glass, for he had decided, with the slight nervousness suitable in a suitor, to put on another stock, and was now tying it with solicitude. It is not too much to say that Abelone’s tale frightened him. This was, in a Hirschholm format, Lucifer storming heaven. In what words had his own toast been drunk?
He came to look at Abelone, behind him, in the mirror. Something in her manner, more than in her broad, stagnant face, which was ever like the locked door behind which was kept her rich store of material to be made use of, gave him the impression that she, too, was frightened, or deeply moved. There was more here, then, than met the eye. Abelone was by no means a gossip. Whatever she knew about other people she did not let out—she probably knew of a better recipe for making use of it—and four bottles of communion wine would be no more to her than four bottles. If she would not let the devil have the boy, was it that she wanted him herself? Was he the rat out of which she was to make her ragoût?
He turned back to his own face, and met the eyes of a good councilor. To be a spectator when Lucifer was storming heaven might be a highly interesting experience; more interesting still if one could succeed in putting a spoke in the wheel for him.
“My good Abelone,” he said, smiling, “Hirschholm seems to have a little talent for scandal. I myself instructed Mr. Anders to take away the wine from the sacristy. I have reason to believe that it was, by mistake, mixed with rum, which, not being made from the grape, can hardly be suitable for the transubstantiation. Mr. Anders will see to it that it is replaced.”
Thereupon he drove off to La Liberté with much stuff for thought, most of it, curiously enough, about his housekeeper. It was not till he turned up the poplar avenue that his mind turned again toward his future.
On his arrival he did not find the young lady in, and had to wait for a little while in the garden-room. On a little console table Fransine had put a large bunch of jessamine in a vase. The sweet and bitter scent was strong, nearly stifling, in the cool room. He was a little nervous about his own appearance in the rôle of a suitor, not about her answer. For she would accept him. She was pretty sure to do, in life, as she was told. He wondered whether, when he should be driving away again from La Liberté as her accepted wooer, she would occupy herself at all with the thought of her future as his wife. That it would be he, who, later in life, would be told how things were to turn out under her hands, that was a different matter.
It seemed to him, while he was waiting, that he was coming into a closer understanding with the furniture in the sky-blue room. The spinet, the musical box, and the chairs had withdrawn a little, with their backs to the wall, as if uneasy about him, like the furniture of a doll’s house, frightened at the intrusion of a grown-up person. Would the time for games be over now? He tried to set them at ease. “I have not come,” he said to them all, “to destroy, but to fulfill. The best games are to come.”
At this, as if actually soothed into existence again, young Madame Lerche came into the room in a pink frock with flounces, followed by her maid who carried the samovar and tea tablecloth for the guest. He could, after a bit of pleasant conversation, begin his proposal.
Fransine always gave him the impression of being anxious, or pleased, to have done with what she had taken on. For what reason he knew not, for there was nothing else on which she seemed at all keen to get started. She did not, he thought, run the risk of Faust in asking the moment to stay because of its loveliness. She pushed all her moments on as quickly as a little nun of Italy, who counts her rosary, pushes on the beads. As he now talked to her of his love and audacious hopes, she grew a little paler and moved her slim figure slightly in the big chair. Her dark eyes met his and looked away again. She was pleased when it was over. She accepted him as he had thought, even with a little emotion, as a refuge in life. The Councilor kissed her hand, and she was pleased to have that over.
Afterward, as the betrothed couple were having tea together, Fransine presiding on the sofa behind the tall samovar, to affect a little importance the Councilor told her of Anders and the communion wine. Here he nearly got more than he had bargained for, for it made a terrible impression upon her. She looked as if she wanted to sink into the ground to get away from such abomination. When she could speak, she asked him, deadly pale, whether the pastor knew it. The Councilor had not expected such a profound awe of sacred things in her. It was an amiable quality, but there was more here, a fear of ghosts, or a ghost itself. He reassured her, and told her how he had decided to free the young clerk from the consequences of his folly. Upon this she gave him a great luminous glance, so languishing and alive in its deep dark sweetness that it filled all the room, like the perfume of the jessamine, and made him feel powerful and benevolent.
“I ought,” said the Councilor, “to frighten the boy for his own sake. Why, if I had not helped him to this job, he would be starving.” At this last word Fransine again grew pale. “And still you know, my dear,” the Councilor went on, “he has a great career in front of him. This is a sad thing: to see a thoughtless boy, a vagabond, ruin the future of a great man. And to me it is somewhat my future too, as if he were my son. But I am afraid to awaken in him an obstinacy which I shall not be able to subdue. The gentle touch of a woman might appeal to his better feelings. He is, surely, the type of human who ought to have a guardian angel, and it would be noble in you if you would assist me in saving him by reading him a little sermon.”
So it was arranged that Fransine should accompany the Councilor to Hirschholm to preach to Anders Kube. She quickly put on a pink bonnet through which the sun heightened the color of her face to the glow of a rose. It was a little unusual for a young woman to drive out alone with a gentleman. Even with Kresten on the back seat, the Councilor thought that the passers-by would conclude upon their engagement, and he enjoyed the drive. Fransine, by his side, looked at the trotting horse and seemed happy to be getting it over with.
The Councilor and his young bride, who was to act the part of a guardian angel, arm in arm ascended the narrow stair to Anders’s small rooms behind the big, newly unfolded lime tree, and found his sister, who was the wife of a merchant captain of Elsinore, and her little boy with him. This made the young woman’s errand more complicated, but eased her heart. She felt that she might pass a peaceful and pleasing hour in this company. The sister and brother were much alike, and when the child looked at her, the heart of Fransine ceased to beat, for here was a bambino such as she had known in the churches of Naples—a cherub with Anders’s eyes, showing the poet’s personality as might a little mirror in heaven.
Fransine had come, in her elegant shawl, as a patroness to the poor and erroneous. She stood now, dark-eyed and stock-still, with the face of Rachel as she said to Jacob: “Give me children or else I die.” She wanted to kneel down to hold the child against her, but was doubtful about the correctness of such a move. Then it occurred to her that she might obtain the same result by lifting him to her level. She placed him upon a chair, first to look out of the window, then to play with her fingers in their black mittens. The child stared at her. He had never seen such ringlets as hers, and poked his little hand into them. To amuse him she took off her bonnet and shook the whole mass of dark tresses forward. They fell like clouds around her face, and the child laughed and pulled at them with both hands. She held him against her bosom, lightly, laughing, looking into his face, and felt for a moment his heart, like a small clock, beating against her own. As the others looked at them she blushed. Waves of deep color washed over her face, but still she could not help smiling.
The Councilor began to converse with the young mother, who sat down on the sofa, in her neat white fluted cap, with the little boy on her lap, and the two young people were left at the window in a tête-à-tête. Fransine felt that the time had come for her to enter upon her mission.
“Mr. Anders,” she said, “the Councilor—my fiancé”—she corrected herself, “has told me with much regret that he has had reason to be disappointed, to be angry with you. It is not right; you must not let it be so. You do not know, perhaps, in Hirschholm, how much evil and misery there is in the world. But I pray you, Mr. Anders, do not do these things which bring people into perdition.”
Although she was addressing him so solemnly, her face still wore a reflection of her smile of a moment ago. Even as she went on talking and was deeply moved, it remained there.
Anders did not hear a word of what she was saying. With that great talent for oblivion, which the Councilor did not always appreciate in his protégé, Anders had long since forgotten all about the matter to which she was referring. He smiled back at her with exactly her own expression. As her face changed, his changed. They took light and shade from each other like two mirrors hung opposite each other in a room.
Fransine felt that the situation was not developing quite as it ought to, but she did not know what to do.
“The Councilor,” she said, “loves you as if you were his son, and if he had not helped you, you might have been starving. He is wise. He knows better than we do how to behave in the world. Look,” she said, fumbling at a small object which was tied to the golden watch-chain around her neck. It was a little piece of coral, formed like a horn, such as the plain people of Italy use as a talisman. “This my grandmother gave me. It is said to protect you against evil eyes. But she thought that it would guard you also against smallpox, and your own dangerous thoughts. For this reason she gave it to me. You take it now, and let it remind you to be careful, to follow the Councilor’s advice.”
Anders took the little amulet from her. As their hands met, they both grew very pale.
From his place on the sofa, the Councilor could see with the corner of his eye that great forces were in play. And he saw plainly that his bride gave to the young clerk, as some sort of symbol, what looked like a little pair of horns. With this, were it more or less than he had expected, he had to be content, and he and Fransine walked down the stair, arm in arm, to where Kresten was waiting for them with the carriage.
As it was not considered by the social world of Hirschholm quite proper that an engaged couple, even though the bridegroom were a man of a certain age, and the bride a widow, should be much together by themselves, it became, during the summer months, the custom for Anders, in the capacity of a chaperon, to accompany the Councilor on his visits to La Liberté. Upon fine evenings the three of them would have tea on the terrace, and Fransine made them pretty little Italian dishes which reminded the Councilor of other days and things. Looking then, in the mild, glowing evening light, across the tea table at the two young people who were both so precious to him—although their order of precedence within his heart might have surprised them—the Councilor felt happy and in harmony with the universe as he very rarely had before. It was difficult, he thought, to imagine a more perfect idyll. “I, too,” he said to himself, “have been in Arcadia.”
At times the attitudes of his young shepherd and shepherdess surprised him and made him uneasy, and he was reminded of a tale which he had read in a book of travel. Therein a party of British explorers in a Negro village came upon a troop of prisoners who were being fattened, behind a palisade, for the table of their capturers. The indignant Britishers offered to buy their freedom, but the victims refused, for they thought that they were having a more pleasant time than they had ever had. Was it possible, the Councilor thought, that the young people had some plan of escape that they were skillfully concealing, or were they no more provident than the cannibals’ captives? Both possibilities seemed to him equally unlikely.
Still he was not in his parable very far from the truth; or the truth, had he known it, would not have appeared to him any more probable.
To Anders the situation was simplified by his decision to kill himself on Fransine’s wedding day, a decision which he had made when he heard of her engagement, and which seemed to him as inevitable as death itself. To the Danish peasant of his type the idea of flinging away your life comes very easily. Life never seems—or, indeed, is—to them any very great boon, and suicide in one way or another may be said to be the natural end of them.
Anders had not been spoiled by fate. If he had been spoiled at all, it had been done by other powers. He had felt the common lot of his kind, that is: to be, as if he had been made out of some stuff essentially different from the rest of the world, invisible to other people. When he had met Fransine, she had seen him. Without any effort, her clear eyes had taken him all in. This sort of human non-existence of which he had at times been tired had come to an end, and he had promised himself much from his newly gained reality. If she was marrying the Councilor, and turning away her eyes, it was only reasonable that he himself should turn elsewhere.
He was always very reserved about his own plans, and in this case felt that his decision concerned nobody but himself. Therefore he did not let it out in any manner. The Councilor, had he known of it, would not only have prevented it, but would also have disliked it. Few people would choose to sit down at their tea tables with a ghost of today a week. Fransine it might have made unhappy. Anders had no chivalry in his disposition, but he had a talent for friendliness, and he would not have liked to grieve any of them. To avoid it he had even planned to borrow a sailing boat from a friend of his amongst the fishermen of Rungsted and to capsize by accident. He was a skilled sailor and could manage that. From time to time he had a strange feeling toward Anders Kube, as toward some central figure in one of his own poems. Sometimes he felt a little guilty, and then again as a benefactor, for he was helping him to escape a lot of unpleasant things. Upon the whole he had, behind his palisade, as quiet eyes as those of the Negro prisoners in the tale.
Apart from this central idea of his, he had in his head a great poem, a swan song, which he was to finish before himself. Having written before of the forests and fields, and relying upon the sea for a last embrace, he had let all his thoughts wander toward her. Naiads and tritons danced in the waves within this last great epos of his; the whales passed over their heads like clouds; dolphins, swans, and fishes played in the powerful and pearly foam of long breakers, and the winds played at flutes and bassoons, and joined in great orchestras. That freedom in which people live, who can die, had got into it; and although it was not, as a drama, very long, there was no end to its many aspects. He read it to Fransine, in the afternoons at La Liberté, as it proceeded.
As to Fransine, it was natural for her to live like this, from hand to mouth. She had no real idea of time; indeed did not have it in her to distinguish between time and eternity. That was one of the traits of character which made the ladies of Hirschholm think her a little feebleminded. She had never before in her life been as happy as this, and could not feel sure whether the uncertainty about its duration and about the future might not be a peculiarity of happiness. For the rest her thoughts followed the moods of Anders. She read his last great poem, and as it was all about the sea, she had the frocks of her trousseau made in hues of sky and sea blue—rather heavenly the two men thought her.
As during these months the Councilor came to know his bride better, he was often surprised by her extreme disregard of truth. He was himself a rearranger of existence, and in many ways in sympathy with her; also in this he found her methods to fall in well with his own plans. But still more than once this talent of hers impressed him. It was, he reflected, an especially feminine trick, a code de femme of practical economy, proved by innumerable generations. Women, wanting to be happy, are up against a force majeure. Hence they may be justified in taking a short cut to happiness by declaring things to be, in fact, that which they want them to be. They have by practice made this household remedy indispensable in the housekeeping of life. In this way, because he was to be her husband, he was pronounced by his young bride ipso facto good, clever, and generous. He did not take it as a personal compliment; she had probably made use of the same formula in connection with the old apothecary Lerche. So were his presents to her always beautiful, so were the sermons of old Pastor Abel of Hirschholm highly moving, so was the weather nice when he took her out for a drive. An exception to the rule was formed by her frocks and bonnets, about which she took much genuine trouble; but then she had such a talent for wearing clothes that in this she could successfully strive toward an ideal. Whether she had come to take refuge in this woman’s religion from personal need, or had been inaugurated into it by wise female Nestors, he did not know. Few women, he thought, come to know romance, married bliss, or success in life except by such an arrangement. The principle had some likeness to Count Schimmelmann’s new clothes, but, invented by simple women, it was devoid of any masculine ambition to prove; it was plain dogma, indisputable.
Thus did the witches of old make up wax children, carry them for nine months under their clothes, and then have them christened, at midnight, with the name of someone of their acquaintance, and after that for all practical purposes the wax child served in place of its namesake. In the hands of an amiable witch this pretty white magic might work much good. But if ever a young witch conceives and carries for nine months a child of her own flesh and blood? Ah! it is then that there will be the devil and all to pay.
The Councilor, seeing his protégé so absorbed in his new work, asked him to read it to him. Anders saw no reason whatever why his old friend should not know of it, and recited bits of it to him from time to time. The old man was very much impressed, filled with an admiration which at times came near to idolatry. It seemed to him, too, that he had come out into a new sort of space and time, into the ether itself, until he was swimming and flying in the blue, and in a new kind of harmony and happiness. He thought it the beginning of great things. He discussed it much with the poet, and even advised him upon it, so that not a few of the Councilor’s own ideas and reflections were, in one way or another, echoed within the epos, and he was, during these summer months, in a way making love, and writing poetry, to his bride by proxy—a piquant situation, which would last till his wedding day. For days and weeks the three of them, even while taking tea upon the terrace, would be living in the waters of great, heavenly seas.
Two days before the wedding the Councilor received from a friend in Germany a copy of the new novel, Wally: Die Zweiferiti, by young Gutzkow, about which the waves of indignation and discussion were at the time going high there.
As it will be remembered, Wally and Cæsar love each other, but they cannot marry, for Wally has promised to become the bride of the ambassador of Sardinia. Cæsar then demands of her that she shall, to symbolize the spiritual marriage between her and him, upon the very wedding morning, show herself to him naked, in her full beauty. There exists an old German poem in which Sigune in this way reveals herself to Tchionatulander.
The Councilor was so much interested in the novel that he brought it with him on his afternoon visit to La Liberté, and went on with his reading, seated under a tree on the terrace, while the young people went to look at a tame fox cub which Fransine kept in the kennel. He considered that he would not, in the coming week, have much time for reading, and that he had better finish his book today.
To his left appears a picture of enrapturing beauty: Sigune, who uncovers herself more bashfully than the Medician Venus covers her nudity. She stands there helpless, blinded by the divine madness of love. It has asked this grace of her, and she is no more free of will; she is all shame, innocence, and devotion. And as a sign that a pious initiation sanctifies the scene, no red rose flowers there; only a tall white lily, blooming close to her body, covers her as a symbol of chastity. A mute second—a breath—that was all. A sacrilege, but a sacrilege inspired by innocence and by ever faithful renunciation.…
The Councilor closed his book, and leaning back in his chair, as if he were looking toward heaven, he even closed his eyes. The air under the crown of the lime tree was filled with green and golden light, with the sweet scent of the linden blossoms, and the humming of innumerable bees.
This, he thought, is very pretty. Very pretty, let old Professor Menzel thunder against it as he likes. A dream of a golden age, of an eternal innocence and sweetness came back to him. Let the critics say that such things do not happen; that does not really matter, for a new variety of flower has been forced in the frame of imagination. He could hear Fransine and Anders talking a little way off, but he could not hear what the talk was about.
From the kennel the two young people had walked down to the vegetable garden, south of the house, to pick some lettuce, peas, and young carrots for the supper table. Part of the low garden was already shaded by a row of old crooked birches which formed the boundary fence of the garden. Through an opening they could look out on the fields, where, in the mellow, golden, evening air two maids, walking out to milk the cows and carrying their tall milk pans on their heads, threw tremendously long blue shadows across the clover field.
Fransine asked Anders’s advice about the fox cub. “In the autumn,” she said, “if I let him out, will he be able to find his own food?”
“I should let him out,” said Anders, “only he may be too familiar with your hen-coops, and come back in the night.” He had a vision of the sharp-toothed, lonely fox, the ghost of the woolen playmate of their summer evenings, in a frosty, silvery, winter night, trotting on to La Liberté. “Then you must come and catch him again,” said Fransine.
“But then I shall not be here,” said Anders, without thinking.
“Oh,” said she, “what high offices, in what state, are taking you away from us, Mr. Anders?” Anders was silent. What high offices, in what state?
“I have got to go away,” he said at last. Fransine did not dispute the fact. Probably she knew enough of the hard necessity, mistress of men and gods. But after a moment she looked at him, as intently as if she had thrown her whole being at him in the glance. “But if you are not here,” she said, “it will be—” she reflected for a second—“it will be too cold here!” she said. Anders understood her very well. An immense wave of pity lifted him up and hurled him at her feet. It would indeed be too cold for her. And his soul was rent between the despair of her feeling cold, and the despair of his being, by that time, too cold to comfort her. “What am I to do then?” she asked him. She was standing up before him. Except that she was clothed, and her two hands were therefore reposing lightly on the flounces of her dress, she was holding the exact pose of that Venus of Medici of which the Councilor was at the same moment reading. Looking at her, Anders remembered that he had before seen her as a child who would not lose, in him, her favorite doll. Now he saw her differently, as the doll which could not lose its child, the child who was to play with it, dress and undress it, and go into ecstasies over it—an ownerless doll, a stray doll, except in his hands.
“Mr. Anders,” she said, “in those weeks after Easter, when we were much together in the Councilor’s house, at that picnic in Rungsted—do you remember?—you told me that it would be your happiness to remain here, as my friend, all your life.” He did not speak. Those weeks after Easter hurt when you thought of them, and they might kill if you spoke about them. “Are you such a faithless friend?” she asked.
“Listen, Madame Fransine,” he said, “I dreamed of you two nights ago.” At this she smiled, but was much interested. “I dreamed,” he said, “that you and I were walking to a great seashore, where a strong wind was blowing. You said to me: ‘This is to go on forever.’ But I said that we were only dreaming. ‘Oh, no, you must not think that,’ you said. ‘Now, if I take off my new bonnet and throw it into the sea, will you believe that it is no dream?” So you untied your bonnet and threw it from you, and the waves carried it far away. Still I thought that it was a dream. ‘Oh, how ignorant you are,’ you said, ‘but if I take off my silk shawl and throw it away, you must see that all this is real.’ You threw back your silk shawl, and from the sand the wind lifted it and carried it off. But I could not help thinking that it was a dream. ‘If I cut off my left hand,’ you said, ‘will you be convinced?’ You had a pair of scissors in the pocket of your frock. You held up your left hand, just as if it had been a rose, and cut it off. And with that—” He stopped, very pale. “With that I woke up,” he said.
She stood quite still. She had much faith in dreams, and had felt herself walking with him on the seashore of which he had just told her. But now she was collecting all her arsenal to keep him, for she really thought that if she were to lose him she would die. She would cut off her left hand for him, if he wanted it, but it were better that it should be under his head. In the clear and sweet evening air she felt her own body strong and light as a young birch tree, her slim waist pliant as a branch, her young breasts resting lightly, like a pair of smooth, round eggs, in the nest of warm and fresh lawn. Her flaming gaze was so deeply sunk in his, and his in hers, that it would take a powerful crane to lift them apart again.
She lifted the Venus’s lower hand just a little and held it toward him, slowly, as if it had been a heavy weight. He stretched out his hand and touched her finger tip. It was exactly the gesture of the Creator of Michelangelo transmitting divine life to young Adam. Such various reproductions of high classic art were moving about, in the evening, in the kitchen garden of La Liberté.
They heard the Councilor stirring in his seat, laying away his book and gazing up into the crown of the tree. Slowly, without a word, Fransine turned and walked along the terrace toward him, and Anders followed her with the basket of lettuce and peas.
The Councilor still had a finger in the book, at the page where he had last been reading. “Ah, Fransine,” he said, “here I have been smuggling into the academy of refinement of La Liberté a little sans-culotte of literature. The young author has been put into prison for it in Germany. That is right. Punish the flesh and let the spirit fly. Since the professors of universities have confiscated the poet, we may enjoy his poetry. I am speaking frivolously, my dear,” he went on, “but upon an evening like this, the moralist cuts a poor figure. And what really captivated me was a curious incident, a very minor matter. For it seems to me that Gutzkow gives, in the meeting place of the rash young lovers, an accurate description of your own little temple of friendship, at La Liberté, down in the beech wood.”
With these words he got up, and went to have tea with his bride, leaving the book on the seat under the linden.
Upon the last day before his wedding the Councilor paid no visit to La Liberté. This is considered the correct thing in Denmark. The bride is given the last day to meditate in peace upon the past and the future, and the bridal couple meet again only in church. The Councilor also had much to do, and spent his day going through papers and making arrangements with his subordinates, so as not to have the first days of his honeymoon disturbed by prosaic matters. But he sent over young Anders with a large bouquet of roses. It was a fine summer day.
In the evening, after sunset, Anders took his gun and went out to shoot duck. The Councilor, also, found no rest in his rooms, and started for a long walk, as may a bridegroom, filled with sentiments. He took the road across the fields to La Liberté, to roam, unnoticed by the world and by her, in the nearness of his bride.
The sky of that summer night was a clear candid blue, like the petal of a periwinkle. Large silvery clouds were towered up all around the horizon; the big trees were holding up their severe dark crowns against them. The long wet grass was of a luminous green. All the colors of the day were within the landscape, no less bright than in daytime, but changed, as if revealing a new side of their being, as if the whole world of color had been transposed from a major to a minor key. The stillness and silence of the night was filled with a deep life, as if within a moment the universe would give up its secret. As the old Councilor looked up, he was surprised to see the full summer moon standing in the middle of the sky. Its shining disc threw a narrow bridge of gold across the iron-gray plane of the sea, as if a shoal of many hundred little fishes were playing in the surface; and still it did not seem to spread much light, as if no more light were needed.
Now that he knew them to be there, however, he began to distinguish the transparent pools of shadow under the trees, which the moon was making, and the narrow little puddles along the road, just at the edge of the long, wet, and fragrant grass.
The Councilor found that he had been standing for some time, looking at the moon. She was a long way off, he knew, but there was nothing between her and him but the diaphanous air, thinner, he had been told, the higher you got up. How was it that he had never been able to write a poem to the moon? He had much to say to her. She was so white and round, and the white and round things he had always loved.
Suddenly it seemed to him that the moon had as much to say to him as he to her. More, or at least she expressed it with more power. Old, yes, he was old; so was she, older than he. It is not a bad thing to be old, he thought; you see and enjoy things better than when you are young. It is not only in the old wine that the bouquet lies; it wants an old palate as well.
But was this powerful communication from the moon a warning? He remembered the nursery tale of the thief who has stolen a fat sheep and is eating it in the moonlight. Mockingly he holds up a bit of fat mutton to the moon, crying:
See, my dear,
What I here
Can with pleasure offer.
And the moon replies:
Thief! I beware!
Key, with care,
Burn that stupid scoffer.
Whereupon a red-hot key comes flying through the air and brands the face of the thief. That story must have been told him by his old nurse fifty years ago. Everything was in the night. Life, yes, and death, a memento mori somewhere. “Take care, death is here!” the moon said. Must he let himself be warned?
Or was it a promise? Was his old self to be lifted now, like to Endymion, to be rewarded for the trouble of life by an everlasting sleep, sweet as this night? Would the world then have a statue erected to him, here in the hayfield of La Liberté, in memory of his apotheosis?
What strange fancies were these? The dripping-wet, heavy-headed, honey-sweet clover brushed against his shins. He had a curious sensation of walking a little above the ground. There were cows lying or walking in it somewhere; he could not distinguish them in the moonlight, but their deep sweet fragrance was in the air.
Suddenly he remembered something that had happened more than forty years before. Young Peter Mathiesen, a reserved, speculative boy then, had been staying with his uncle, the parson at Mols, and in the same house a little girl, a farmer’s daughter, was being prepared for her confirmation. His uncle had been a well-read man who talked about everything—God, love, life everlasting—and who was an enthusiast about the new romantic literature. They used to read poetry in the evening at the parsonage, and one night, because the little girl’s name was Nanna, it had amused the pastor to make the children take part in the recital of the tragedy Death of Baldur, and to address to each other the burning, passion-sick verses of Baldur and Nanna. With his glasses pushed back the old parson had listened, transported, with that kind of shamelessness which also makes old maids grow hyacinths in tall glasses so that they may watch the roots, and had not known that the country children were burning and turning pale under the sound of their own voices. When bed time came the boy had not been able to go to bed. Hot and bewildered, he had wandered about the farm buildings, seeking for something which might wash off this touch, and he had come down to the stables. It was a moonlight, misty night in early spring. Leaning against the wall, he had felt terribly lonely, and not only lonely, but betrayed, as if something were lying in wait for him. Then he had come to think of the cows inside, and of their imperturbability in the darkness. There was one big white cow, by the name of Rosa, which had been a favorite with the children. He had felt that she might give him comfort. Within her stall, his chest against the side of the reposing, gently chewing animal, a sweetly penetrating calm and balance had come upon him, and he had made up his mind to sleep with her all night. But hardly had he lain down in the straw when the stable door was opened gently, and a soft step approached. As he peeped over Rosa’s back he saw the little girl come in, dim and light in the dim moonlight. She had been unhappy like him, he thought, and had felt that only a cud-chewing animal would have power to give her back her peace of heart. The moon shone in through the little stable window—that same moon—turning the white-washed wall milk white where it struck it. The girl’s fair hair glittered under its touch, but he was in the dark, and he kept very still, like a fugitive in danger of discovery. He watched her kneeling down in the straw, so close to him, breathing so hard. He was not sure that she was not sobbing a little to herself. They had lain there for several hours of the short spring night, sometimes sleeping, sometimes awake, with the tranquil, sweet-smelling Rosa between them like the two-edged sword in the poem of chivalry. Many thoughts, many pretty and strong pictures had run through the boy’s head When he had slept he had dreamed of Nanna, and when he had woke up and had raised himself to look at her, she was still there, unaware of his presence. Very early in the morning she got up, brushed the straw from her skirt, and was gone, and he had never told her that he had been there with her.
The Councilor walked on, pleased. He thought of Count Schimmelmann’s quotation: “He is the fool who knows not the half to be more than the whole.” This long-forgotten incident was a little flower in his life, in the garland of his life, a field flower, a wild forget-me-not. There were not a few flowers, violets, pansies, in his life. Would this night put a rose into the garland?
A little way from the garden of La Liberté, in the hayfield, there was a beech grove. In the corner of it, upon a mound, a lady of the manor who had, a hundred years before, been partial to the quiet and sweet solemnity of the spot, had had a little summer house erected, a temple to friendship. There were five wooden pillars which carried a domed roof. Two steps led up to it, and a seat ran along the inner side of the columns, in a half circle. From here you could see the sea. Later on, since the climate of Denmark is not always in harmony with Greek architecture, the one side of the building had been thatched to give shelter to the meditator. The whole place was now dilapidated, and in the daytime a little tristful, but below the full moon it looked romantic.
He turned his steps toward the little temple as a harmonious spot for the dreams of a bridegroom, but he walked slowly and with prudence, for his young bride might have had the same fancy, and if so he would not frighten or disturb her. As he came nearer, however, voices coming from the mound made him first stand stock-still, then move along quietly, following the sound. For the second time a lurker in the grounds of La Liberté, he took care to approach without a sound, behind the thatched wall.
Anders and Fransine were together in the temple, speaking softly. The young man sat on the seat, immobile. The young woman stood up opposite him, her back against a pillar. The moon was shining on them; the whole world around them was light, like a landscape under snow. But the old Councilor was in the deep shade of his hiding place. Indeed, he was like that statue of himself about which he had recently been dreaming. Statues also, sometimes, see a lot.
The young woman had on an outlandish garment, a sort of black domino or opera cloak, which he had never seen in her possession, and which she was holding closely together about her. Her dark hair hung down, a live, odorous mantle, and her face within it was like a white rose, dew-cool, in the night air. He had never seen her look so lovely. He had indeed never seen any human being look so lovely before. It was as if the whole summer night had brought forth one flower, the epitome of its beauty. She seemed to sway a little, like a flexible branch, too heavy with the weight of its white roses.
There was a long silence. Then Fransine gave a low laugh of happiness, as soft and sweet as a dove’s cooing.
“They are all lying down,” she said, “like dead people in a churchyard. Only you and I are afoot. Is it not stupid to lie down?” She twisted a little in her cloak. “Oh, I am tired of them,” she exclaimed, passionately, “talking, talking always. I wish to God they would lie forever, so that we could be left alone in the world a little.” The sweetness of the thought seemed to overwhelm her. She drew in her breath. She stood still, waiting for him to move or answer her. After a while she asked him, her voice still filled with laughter and tenderness: “Anders, what is the matter?”
Anders was a long time in answering her, then he spoke very slowly: “Yes,” he said, “you may well ask, Fransine. It is important. The spirit we need not talk about; it is not dangerous. But what is the matter? It has many strange things about it. It is the phlogiston of our bodies, being of negative weight, you might say. That is easy to understand, of course, but it gives you such great pain when it is demonstrated upon you. First we are treated by fire—burned, or roasted slowly, that comes to the same thing—and even then we cannot fly.”
Now the cause of the lover’s immobility became clear to the old listener. This young man was dead drunk. He could just manage to keep himself, sealed, in balance, but could make no further movement. He was pale as a corpse; the sweat kept pouring down his face; and he kept his eyes on the face of the girl as if it would have caused him infinite pain to move them away from it. The Councilor, who had been repeating to himself his little aphorism, “the half to be more than the whole,” here had the theory proved straight in his face.
Fransine smiled at the young man. Like many women, she did not recognize the symptoms of drunkenness in a man. “Oh, Anders,” she said, “you do not know it, so I will tell you: I can fly. Or nearly. Old ballet-master Basso said to me: ‘The other girls I have to whip up, but I shall have to tie two stones to your legs soon, or you will fly away from me.’ These old men are mad, and they want strange things of you. I do not mind now. I will show you soon that I can fly, like the flying fishes with which the sea children made ducks and drakes.”
“You see, my girl,” said Anders, “you are like a cook who kills a whole, good, live duck just for making a giblet soup. You may use me for a giblet soup if you like, but you must come and cut out the bits you want yourself. The birds do not themselves know the places of their liver and heart. That is woman’s work, Fransine.”
Fransine thought this over for a little while. She was sure that every one of his words was wise, and kind to her. “My mother,” she said, “came from the ghetto of Rome. You did not know that. Nobody knows that. There I saw her kill the birds in the right way, so that no blood was left in them. That ghetto, Anders, that is the place, you can be sure, where people suffer, where you have to be careful, or else you are robbed and hurt. Hanged, even. I have seen people hanged. My grandfather was hanged there. The world has been hard to me, Anders, and to you as well. But then it is even sweeter still to be happy.” She paused a moment. “To be happy,” she said. “Do you not think so?”
“But it is too late,” Anders said. “Things happen, even when you are not there. That is the trouble. That is what you do not know. The cocks are crowing, though we cannot hear them here.” Quoting an old ditty of the charcoal burners, he said, slowly and gently:
Early at midsummer-dawn the cock was crowing,
Twenty-nine cradles had I set a-going.
“No, they are not crowing,” she said. “It is not daylight, Anders. It is not even midnight.” She stood still before him.
“There are two,” said Anders, “who will take me whole, as I sit here. Abelone will take me whole. She wants to keep a public house at Elsinore, and me to marry her and be landlord to the seamen. The sea, also, will take me whole. When one of the two has been at you, you will have had your bones well picked.”
The Councilor, even though absorbed in their talk, here got a small shock. Had his housekeeper been entertaining such prospects, and not said a word to him? Had she, perhaps, even, perceived in Fransine a rival of her own dignities, and in this shown more insight than he himself had?
Fransine stood staring at Anders, bewildered. “Anders,” she said, “do not speak like that. Listen. At the fairs, when I danced to them, they cried: ‘Again! Again!’ They said: ‘It is like seeing the stars dancing, the hearts burning.’ Do you not believe that I can make you happy?”
“Oh, my lass,” said he, “let us be good. Let us behave like good people. Let me pay you what the seamen pay the girls at Elsinore. I have not much to give you, and that is a great pity. The other night I spent a lot of my savings on beer for the people at the inn, and that was bad of me. But fifty specie-dollars I have still laid aside. Do take them now, for God’s sake. I do not ask you this for my own sake, I swear to you, for I am going to die sooner or later in any case, but for yours, you poor, pretty girl. It is always a good thing for a girl to have fifty specie-dollars. Go buy yourself a shift, and do not run about naked in the cold nights.”
There was much strength in Fransine. Upon this she made a movement towards him. Her tightly drawn cloak and long hair followed it. Within her self-luminous face her two big dark eyes were fixed upon his face. She looked like a young witch under the moon. “Anders, Anders!” she said, “do you not love me?”
“Oh, God’ ” he said. “That was coming, I knew. I can answer that, from practice, quite well. I love you, my pretty vixen. Your hair, now, is like a little red flame in the dark, a cloven tongue of fire, a little marsh fire to show people the wrong way, the way to hell.”
The young woman was trembling from her head to her feet. “Did you not,” she said, wringing her hands, “want me to come, here, to you, tonight?”
He sat silent for a moment. “Well,” he said, “if you are asking me my honest opinion, Madame Fransine, No. I should like to be by myself.”
Fransine turned and ran away. Her long cloak of Naples, trailing in her wake, hindered her. Still she held it closely wrapped about her. Thus fled Arethusa, when, long ago, she was changed into a river, and loudly lamenting, hurled herself through the myrtle groves.
Anders sat for a long time like a dead man. Then, with the slow and uncertain movement of drunken people, he took up his gun and got onto his feet. He turned around, and in so doing was brought face to face with the Councilor.
He did not seem at all surprised to see him. Perhaps he had thought of him, or had felt his presence, somehow, in the atmosphere of his rendezvous. He only grinned, when he set eyes on him, as if he had been shown the solution of a crafty riddle. The Councilor felt the moment more awkward. For a few seconds the two stared at each other. Then, with a smile such as a boy might show in playing a bad prank on somebody, Anders half lifted his gun, and without taking aim fired it off straight into the body of the old man. The retort boomed and echoed far away in the summer night.
The roar and the sudden, overwhelming pain struck the old man as one thing, as the end or the beginning of the world. He fell, and in falling saw his murderer, with an agility surprising in a dead-drunk man, swing himself over the low wall of the little temple and disappear.
The Councilor found himself, after a long stay in a strange world, lying on his back in the clover, in a pool of something warm and sticky: his own blood, which was blending with the moisture of the field.
He had the feeling that he had been terribly angry. He was not sure whether the din and the darkness were not the effects of his wrath, an anathema flung at the head of his ungrateful protégé. Slowly returning to consciousness, he was still suffering from the pain and exhaustion which a great anger leaves in the breast, but he no longer hated or condemned. He was past all that.
He had lost a lot of blood. He thought that he must have had the full barrel fired into his right side. He could not move his right leg, either. It was strange that you could change things so completely just by lying down where you had been standing up. He had never known that the scent of the flowering clover could be so strong, but that was because he had not before been lying down, buried, bathed in it, as now.
He was going to die. The young man, whom he loved, had meant him to die. The world had thrown him out. His will, he remembered, was in order. He was leaving his money to his bride. His old servants were provided for, and his cellar was going to Count Schimmelmann, who took such pleasure in wine. In making this will he had been wondering whether the thought of a well-made will might be any comfort to a dying man. Now he knew it to be so.
After a little while he tried to realize whereto he had been thrown, out of the world. As he recognized the place, it occurred to him that he might still save himself. He might control his world once more.
He must be about a mile from La Liberté. If he could manage to turn, and shift his weight onto his sound arm, he might be able to move. Could he get as far as the long avenue which led to the house, he might crawl along the stone fence, and rest against it.
He was in great pain as soon as he started to move, and he wondered whether it would be worth while. “Now, my dear friend,” he said to himself, feeling that it was time for a kind word, “try. You will be all right.” He could draw himself along in this way, like an old snake which has been run over on the road, but still wriggles on.
His arm gave way; he fell straight upon his face, and his mouth, open in the struggle for breath, was filled with dust.
As he raised himself again he saw that he had been mistaken about the place; he was not in Denmark, but at Weimar.
The sweetness of this discovery nearly overwhelmed him. Weimar, then, was so easy to get to. A road led there from the hayfield of La Liberté. This place—he saw it clearly now—was the terrace; the view over the town was as fine as ever; it was the sacred garden itself, and the solemn lime trees were guarding the sanctuary; he felt their full, balsamic scent. The moon was shining serenely on it all, and from a shining window the great poet might at this moment be watching her, forming divine lines to her divinity.
He remembered now: he himself was writing a tragedy. He had, upon a time, considered this undertaking the greatest of his life, and he did not know how it was that he had for some time not thought about it. He had even had a plan for maneuvering it into the hands of the Geheimerat, to get his opinion on it. Perhaps this night would be the right moment. It had been called The Wandering Jew. It might not be worth very much. There were reminiscences of the Geheimerat’s own Faust in it; still, there was also some imagination. The imaginary cross, which his Ahasuerus had been carrying through the world on his long weary road, that was not without effective power.
He thought: Would the great poet let his own people—Wilhelm Meister, Werther, Dorothea—associate with the creations of his, the Councilor’s, mind? Undoubtedly there would be a social order in the world of fiction as there was everywhere, even in the world of Hirschholm. Indeed, it might be the criterion of a work of art that you should be able to imagine its characters keeping company with the people, or frequenting the places, of the works of the great masters. Would not Elmire and Tartuffe land at Cyprus, and be received there, on his master’s behalf, by young Cassio, having passed on the way a ship with brown sails, a-sail for Scheria?
He fell again, and rolled over on his back. This was a more difficult position from which to raise himself, and while he was lying thus, gasping for breath, a dog barked some way off.
“The little dogs and all—Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart—see, they bark at me.”
Yes, they might have reason to do so. He saw his own clothes in the light of the summer moon, stiff with blood and dust. No beggar could look worse.
King Lear, also, had at a time been in a bad position. Murderers had been after him, too. He had been alone upon a heath and had struggled and fallen. The night that he had been out in had been much worse than this. But all the same the old King had somehow been so safe, so unshakenly secure. Still lying flat upon the ground, panting, the Councilor tried to remember what it had been that had made King Lear so exceptionally safe, so that even the storm on the heath, and even all the wickedness in the world, could not harm him in the least. He had been in the hands of two ungrateful daughters; they had treated him with dreadful cruelty; there was nothing safe in the situation there. It was something else. The old King had been in the hands, whatever happened to him, of the great British poet, of William Shakespeare. That was it.
The Councilor had reached the stone fence of the garden. With a very great effort he sat himself up against it. It gave him rest. And suddenly, with the face of the moon looking into his own blood-stained and smirched face, the old Councilor understood everything in the world.
He was not only at Weimar. No, it was more than that. He had got inside the magic circle of poetry. He was in the world of the mind of the great Geheimerat. All this still landscape around him, also this great pain which washed over him from time to time, they were the accomplishments of the poet of Weimar. He himself had got into these works of harmony, deep thought, and order undestroyable. He was free, if he liked, to be Mephistopheles, or the silly student who comes to ask advice about life. In fact he might be anything without ever running any risk, for whatever he did the author would see to it that things would somehow come out all right, that high and divine law and order would be maintained. How was it that he had ever in his life been afraid? Had he believed that Goethe might fail?
Make ten of one,
and two let be.
Make even three.
And nine is one
and ten is none.…
The words gave him an extraordinary comfort. What a fool, what a fool he had been! What could anything matter? He was in the hands of Goethe.
The old man looked, as if for the first time in his life, up toward the sky. His lips moved. He said:
Ich bin Eurer Excellenz ehrerbietigster Diener.
At this moment of his apotheosis he became aware of somebody crying a little way off. The sound came nearer, then suddenly turned off and withdrew. Was this, he thought, Margaret weeping in her desertion?
My mother, the harlot
who put me to death,
My father, the varlet,
who eaten me hath.…
No, he thought, it must be the young lady of La Liberté, his bride of the same day, poor Fransine. From the sound he judged her to be walking up and down near him. She had gone to the farthest end of the terrace, so as not to be heard from the house. If he could get a few yards farther, he would be within earshot, and he would be saved.
With this certainty also a great feeling of pity came upon the Councilor. Fransine must have heard the shot, he thought, and be beside herself with fear. Her sobbing sounded wild and without hope, and there she was, all alone in the night. This was rather cruel of the Geheimerat. Still, he had done worse when he had made Margaret kill her child; and yet that had also been right, had been in good order, somehow.
He leaned against the fence, his paralyzed legs trailing in the dust, and tried to collect and control all these thoughts. Out of his richer knowledge he would have to console the unhappy young woman, and make things right for her. She was young and simple; it would be no use to try to make her see how it was that everything was in order. But that did not matter; it was really better so. Children, who cannot digest the full produce of the earth, are made happy with a stick of barley sugar. He would arrange to get for Fransine that which is generally called happiness. This, he felt, was in the plan of the author, of the Geheimerat.
In the sky the moon had changed position and color. The dawn was approaching. The summer sky was slowly rusting; the stars hung in it like clear drops, ready to fall. Balsamic winds ran along, close to the earth.
The Councilor thought that he must look like a ghost, and with great difficulty he got out his handkerchief and wiped his face. The effort nearly killed him, and he succeeded only in smearing blood and dust all over his face. He felt that it would be no use to try to call to her; his voice was too faint. He must try to get nearer. There were two stone steps leading from the road to the end of the terrace, through the fence, and if he could get there he would be seen by her. With his last strength he moved forward, on elbow and knee, another ten yards, and this, he knew, was the end; he could do no more. He got up onto the lower stone and leaned against the top step. He had meant to call, but could not make a sound. Just then she turned and caught sight of him.
If he looked like a ghost, which he did—so much so that she took him for one—she herself looked, she was indeed, the ghost of that young beauty of La Liberté, of lovely Fransine Lerche. She had on a plain nightgown only, put on in a hurry, for she had done with her body. When she had flung away the domino of Naples, she had thrown away with it that delicate, fragrant garland of roses and lilies of her beauty, which had meant everything to her. Her rounded bosom and hips had shrunk; there seemed to be nothing inside her white garment but a stick. Even her long hair was hanging down, lifeless, like her arms. Her fresh and gentle doll’s face was dissolved and ruined by tears; the doll had been broken; its starry eyes and rosebud mouth were now no more than black holes in a white plane. Dead-tired, she could not sit or lie down. Her despair kept her upright, like the lead in the little wooden figures which children play with, like the weight tied to dead seamen’s feet, which keeps them standing up, swaying, at the bottom of the sea.
The two stared at each other. At last the old man gathered enough strength to whisper, “Help me. I cannot move any more.”
She stood stock-still. The idea occurred to him that he must tranquillize her, for she was mad with horror. He said: “I have been shot, as you see. But it does not matter.” He did not know whether she had heard him. He hardly knew whether he had spoken.
At last the girl understood. Her lover had shot this old man. In a short moment, as in a great, white, flash of light, a vision was shown her: Anders with the halter around his neck. And instantly a ghost of her old strength came back to her, as a wreckage of your ship may be washed back to you on a bleak shore. Let Anders have done what he liked, he and she belonged to one another, were one. That he had hurt her to death and that she had fled from him, and at this moment dreaded nothing in the world as much as seeing him again—all this made no difference.
She stood and looked at the blood which was running out of the old man’s body and coloring her stone steps. As if there had been some magic in it, it lifted and steadied her heart within her. She saw, in the red light of it, that whatever unhappiness there had been between her and Anders had come there through her fault. The conviction released all her nature; for that he should be in the wrong, that had been too much for her to bear. The red blood, the great relief of her heart, and the coming daylight which began to fill the air, became all one to her. The darkness would be over. After she had gone from him, Anders had proved that he loved her. And only she and the old man knew.
Like a mænad, her hair streaming down, she began to tug and tear at one of the big flat stones of the fence, to get it loose. When she got it out she stood for a moment, holding it, with all her strength, in both arms, pressed to her bosom, as if it had been her only child, which the old sorcerer had managed to turn into stone.
The Councilor felt his blood running out quickly; if he had a message to give her it would have to be now. Afraid that his lips had given no sound when he had tried to speak to her, he dragged his right hand along the ground until it touched her bare foot. The girl, who had been so sensitive to touch, did not move; she had done with her body.
“My poor girl, my dove,” he said, “listen. Everything is good. All, all!
“Sacred, Fransine,” he said, “sacred puppets.”
He had to wait for a minute, but he had more to say to her.
He said, very slowly: “There the moon sits up high. You and I shall never die.” He could not go on; his head dropped down upon the stone.
If Fransine did not hear him, she understood him through his touch. He meant to tell her that the world was good and beautiful, but indeed she knew better. Just because it suited him that the world should be lovely, he meant to conjure it into being so. Perhaps he would hold forth on the beauty of the landscape. He had done that to her before. Perhaps he would tell her that it was her wedding day, and that heaven and earth were smiling to her. But that was the world in which they meant to hang Anders.
“You!” she cried at him. “You poet!”
She lifted the stone, in both arms, above her head, and flung it down at him.
The blood spouted to all sides. The body, which had a second before possessed balance, a purpose, a conception of the world around it, fell together, and lay on the ground like a bundle of old clothes, at the pleasure of the law of gravitation, as it had fallen.
To the Councilor himself it was as if he had been flung, in a tremendous movement, headlong into an immeasurable abyss. It took a little time; he was thrown down in three or four great leaps from one cataract to the other. And meanwhile, from all sides, like an echo in the engulfing darkness, winding and rolling in long caverns, her last word was repeated again and again.